Catering to Your Niche Customers: Book Signings

Most coffee shops are the second home of creative types–freelancers, graphic designers, entrepreneurs, and writers. These people need a place to get out of the distractions of their home but don’t have an official office to go to; they need WiFi, outlets and lots of stimulating beverages. Sometimes they just need a place to go that will motivate them to put some pants on and get a little sunshine–maybe even some social interaction.

These creative types mean that the events you host at your coffee shop should be creative opportunities; opportunities for artists and crafters to mingle and unite for a common cause or interest.

One such interest is book signings. Now, depending on the types of connections you have, it may be difficult to schedule a book-signing with a big name releasing their newest book that’s already on the top of the New York Times best seller’s list its first day. Generally, those events take up lots of space and generally those authors (and their publicists) want people to have the opportunity to buy their newest books and maybe their others.

This doesn’t mean it is impossible, it just means you need to be realistic about the type of space you have and what type of events allow you to host.

For a book-signing, you’ll need to plan ahead and advertise well, even before the event is planned itself. If you advertise local events or opportunities somewhere in your shop, you could post a flyer indicating that your shop is open to such events as book-signings and letting people know how to contact you about setting one up. I guarantee one of those creative types is an author finishing their novel or a publisher/agent with a new, rising star ready to burst on the scene. You can also indicate this type of specific accommodation on your social media and website(s) as well as anywhere else you advertise. If you have interns or a public relations type person, you can have them (or yourself) research local publishers, especially small presses, and contact them. This can be cold-calling or email – just to say that your space is open to such events for a reasonable price, such as free because you’ll have baristas on hand to sell your products for the event. This is, after all, an opportunity to bring more people together in your space, including people who may not normally patronize your business. You can also rent out your space, in which case you should check around to make sure your asking price is competitive.

Once you have an event to plan, you’ll want to advertise it thoroughly, well in advance. Advertise at the store, with flyers, a sign, handouts, and by having your employees talk about it. You may be able to get a copy of the book prior to the event which you can display as a future advertisement; if anything, you should be able to get a press packet with the author’s photo and/or a photo of the book, with an official blurb. You can put this in a stand-up plastic display at the checkout counter, or at each table. You should advertise online, including your website, and set up a ticketing method. Eventbrite is a good website to set up how many spaces you’ll have available. Even if the event is free, you’ll get a better estimate as to how many people will be there because if someone feels like they’re getting a ticket, they feel more committed to the event, as opposed to RSVPing on Facebook. You can send an email out to your mailing list and create an event on Facebook. If you want to go above and beyond you can send out personalized mailing invitations; but, it is unlikely your regular customers will want to give out their addresses. You could have a box or sign-up list for people to put their phone numbers, emails, or addresses so that they can receive an invitation or instructions on how to RSVP. One thing to remember is that the people throwing the event–the author, their publisher or agent, and so forth–may handle the guest list entirely themselves. You’ll at least need to communicate with them to ensure that you have adequate seating and prepared snacks/beverages, as well as adequate staffing. You’ll want to remind people leading up to the event that it is occurring, including having reminders for those who have RSVP’d.

For the event, it’s up to you whether you offer a free item to the attendees or not. I would have your entire menu (drinks wise) available, but a limited food menu is understandable for evening events. Especially if you are not renting the space out, your profits are coming from whatever is purchased in addition to the potential future customers. I recommend requesting that people show up earlier than the event in order to purchase their beverages so that the author can speak/read with limited discussion; I also recommend planning to be open 30 minutes to 1 hour after the event is supposed to end. This allows for going over time, people milling about, and for people to continue to purchase your products.

You’ll want to have the event between 5-8 on a weeknight, though you can go a little later on a weekend, remember that weekends are when people either go out or spend time with family and friends. Either way, you don’t want the event to go too late or start before most people are off of work. You need to make sure you have adequate space for the number of attendees and that space is arranged to accommodate them. You can decide (perhaps with the input of the event planners) whether to provide enough seating or to just ask people to stand. Providing some seating is necessary to accommodate as many people as possible, including people with disabilities. You’ll want to place the author toward the “front” of the room, wherever he or she can be seen best; you’ll also want to provide them with a table and chair for the actual signing–so that extra books, pens, water/coffee can be placed around them easily. If you can’t provide a table, a podium could work.

It is less stressful to close the shop a bit before the event begins (approximately 30 minutes can work) to get cleaning and setup taken care of without having to accommodate a flow of customers. It’s up to you because having customers in the store as the event is being set up is an opportunity to inspire more attendees for the event.
If there is a theme to the book, you can have your employees dress up that way. You can offer a promotion for something like a free cappuccino if attendees dress up. If you can get your hands on posters of the previous books or the author, you can decorate with those. You want to make the space welcoming and celebratory of the author and accommodating and comfortable to your guests. This is a great way to make your shop the focal point for local culture and community, bring together the creatives in your area, inspire people to come back to your shop, and build good press with authors, agents, and PR reps–which means garnering future business for the same kinds of events!
One final fun way to promote such an event would be to host a book club leading up to it where your employees and other guests read and discuss the book together, thus building excitement and implanting the event in their minds!

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17 Comments

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  1. Another idea I suggests is that you can promote your ebook, website and/or product launching. The idea listed in the article is very helpful from ingress to egress. A complete guide to host an event. Dont just limit your store event to book signing or meetings. There are so many events that you can host. A birthday party is not a bad idea at all!

  2. Great article. I think its great for coffee shop owners who would like to know how they can cater more to their book signing customers and how they can better advertise and attract more customers.

    Its also a good idea to offer book signings events for free, as book signing customers are likely to buy your products while they are there. Or you could offer to host it for a reasonable price with free coffee.

  3. This is an excellent idea of business promotion. Your blog is full of unique and fresh ideas with regards on how to market your shop to gain customers and to promote it to possible clients. As an individual who is planning to have my own coffee shop someday, this kind or article is very useful!

  4. This article pointed out some awesome ideas for promoting ones coffee shop. I would be the first one to visit a book signing and bring all my bookworm friends to the event. I attended a few of them and I must admit that I had so much fun. It`s a great opportunity to spread your horizon and find out about some new writers and potentially find some new book-loving friends. You can never go wrong with this kind of event. 😀

  5. I would love to go to a book signing in a coffee shop! The only ones I have ever been to were in libraries and bookstores. They were also far from free and offered no refreshments unfortunately. The idea of combining the event of a book signing with good coffee is genius though. It would’ve made my previous experiences so much more enjoyable if they had had better seating, like the pre-existing options a coffee shop provides. I remember people even sitting on the floor for hours. I also agree that if the event were free, then more items from your shop would be purchased. I know that I’d probably just buy the cheapest thing on the menu if I was already being charged a high price for entrance alone.

  6. You know, instead of calling it a book signing, you can host a meet and greet with rising star authors. If you’re familiar with watt-pad, you can invite some of the authors there with a huge following, give them an incentive to show up, and boom! instant publicity for you and the authors.

    As for selling the books, you can even have a promo where each book sold would account for a discount or freebie from your shop, or the other way around where a purchase from your shop nets them a discount from the books.

  7. Really, really good article. There’s a scene in a movie, Ruby Sparks, that shows the protagonist promoting his book in a coffee shop/library. It was probably one of the best looking scenes I’ve seen. I expect the majority of people promoting their books are going to be independent creatives. I think a more casual kind of book signing would be a lot of fun.

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